By Joseph Ametepe
Christian ministry is not a work that is carried out in human strength and power. It cannot. Why? Christian ministry is an intensely spiritual work. A spiritual work requires spiritual power. In other words, God's work must be done in God's power. This is one of the basic principles of ministry. We all know it to be true. Unfortunately however, it is not a principle that is consistently practiced in our lives. Most often, we find ourselves relying on our human strength and skills to do ministry -- God's work.
• One cannot put diesel fuel into a gasoline car and expect it to function well. Actually, the car will be ruined. A few years ago, while filling up my gasoline driven car, I lost my mind for a moment and thought I had filled my car with diesel. I suddenly went into panic. In my state of panic, I went to the nearby auto shop attached to the filling station to ask for help. My car was pushed by the mechanics to the shop and "work" was supposed to have started on it to drain the diesel from my fuel tank. I was really having a bad day. But thankfully I had not started the car after thinking I filled it with diesel fuel. That means my carburetor was safe. When I calmed down and came to my senses, I realized that I hadn't done such a thing. I came back to the shop to let them know that I didn't fill my car with diesel. One of the mechanics met me outside the shop before I entered and quietly said to me, "You did not fill your car with diesel." He told me the truth. But to my dismay and distress, when I entered the shop, the manager, a wicked, greedy, and corrupt man, insisted that I had filled the car with diesel. He claimed, they had drained my car and cleaned my carburetor and was demanding a fee of close to $300 for their "service." It was a bad day for me. No matter what I said, this manager would not bulge. I ended up paying for "the service" through a gracious provision of God. Since God provided for the payment, I left the situation to Him. He is a just God. He will deal righteously with the corrupt and greedy manager, who took advantage of me in a brief but vulnerable moment in my life.
• Well, the point of this story is that I fully understood that diesel fuel would ruin my gasoline driven car. Similarly, it is clear to me that human strength and skills will only lead to the demise and ineffectiveness of our ministry. Yet it seems to me that we have not come to terms with the danger and futility of doing God's work in our own strength. While I appreciate all the technological advances man has made over the last centuries, it is sad to see more and more ministers, investing and heavily depending on technology to do their ministries. We need to be reminded that no matter what cutting edge techniques we have and use in ministry, they cannot in themselves make our ministry powerful and effective. Oh for sure, they may make our ministries look successful in the eyes of men, but not in God's estimation. God's evaluation of our ministries is based on this simple principle: God's work must be done in God's power.
• This is what this article is all about. It is written to call us back to the simple and basic way of doing an effective ministry, that is, faithfully relying on the power and presence of the Person of the Holy Spirit. God knew we needed His Holy Spirit to empower us for His service. Therefore, He sent Him to us. He didn't leave us to depend on our feeble and failing human strength and might. He has provided us with all the resources we need in the Person of the Holy Spirit to carry out a successful and fruitful ministry. It is my prayer that through this article, God will renew your personal commitment to ever more depend on the Spirit of God to do the work of God.
The Definition of Ministry
• Ministry is a privileged-partnership with God through the Holy Spirit and with Spirit-filled born again believers in serving the Person of God Himself, the people of God and the people of the world in love, in order to advance the redemptive purpose of Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
• Please notice that in this definition, ministry is both a privilege and a partnership. Furthermore, it is a personal act of service to God, His people, that is, the Body of Christ, and to the people of the world. It is carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of glorifying God.
• It is a privilege because God chooses in His grace to bestow on redeemed sinners the blessed honor of service in His kingdom. There is nothing we could do to deserve or earn this honor. It is purely due to His marvelous and matchless grace. It's all about His grace. It's all about His favor. It's because of His doing, that we, who are savingly related to Him through the blood of Christ could approach the holy and righteous God to serve Him and His purpose in this world. This is an incredible privilege and honor bestowed on mortals.
• It is a partnership because God invites believers in Him to be His fellow-workers. This is awesome. God, who is altogether holy, all-wise, all-knowing, all-truthful, all-powerful, almighty, and all-sufficient, needing no one to assist Him, chooses to call us into His service to be His partners in advancing His redemptive purpose. This is amazing. The Holy Spirit deeply impressed this truth on Apostle Paul's heart. Twice, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he brought it to the attention of the believers in the church of Corinth.
• "We are God's fellow-workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9).
• "Working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1).
• In Mark 16:20, we read:
• "And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed."
• Clearly, these Scriptures reveal that ministry is indeed a partnership with God, a working together with God Almighty Himself. He did not leave us here to do our best without His partnership and presence.
• Ministry is not only partnership with God, but also partnership with other believers who love God and desire to honor Him. Paul was blessed with both partnership with God and other like-minded believers who served God's purpose out of love for Him. He had partnership with Epaphroditus, whom he described as "my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier" (Philippians 2:25). He also had partnership with Euodia and Synteche, whom he described as "my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life" (Philippians 4:3). Philemon, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke were among Paul's fellow workers (Philemon 1, 24). Prisca and Aquila were also his fellow workers in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3). Clearly then, ministry is partnership with God and other like-minded believers who are brought together by God to serve His purpose.
• It is a personal act of service. Each and every single believer has been gifted and equipped to serve in the kingdom of the Great King. Serving God, His people, and the people of the world is a personal responsibility for each believer. No one can excuse himself or herself from it.
• Please, also note that the power for service is provided through the Person of the Holy Spirit. Reminding the suffering first century believers (who were scattered in what is now modern Turkey), inspired Apostle Peter clearly presented to them that God is the One who provides strength for our service.
• "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:11).
• Finally, notice that the purpose of ministry in our definition is the glory of God. Ministry is not about our glory. It is not about our fame. It is not about our honor. It is not for our praise. It's all about the glory and honor and praise and fame of the all-sufficient God.
Overview of Article
• In this article, we will look at three principal truths regarding the power of ministry. First, we will examine the Bible's clear teaching that the power of ministry is actually the Person of the Holy Spirit Himself. Second, our discussion will focus on the fact that purity of heart is essential to experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry. Third, the Bible's plain teaching that prayer is the gracious means God has ordained for releasing the power of the Holy Spirit into His servant's life for service, will be presented and well-illustrated.
Principal Truths About the Power of Ministry
• That the power of ministry is the Spirit of God is clearly set forth in the Old Testament. After God brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, He established a covenant with them. He also gave them the Law at Mount Sinai or (Horeb, also called the mountain of God). Since they were His people, and the Lord was their God, the sons of Israel were not to behave just like any of the pagan nations, following depraved and corrupt moral practices as part of their worship. God therefore instituted the priesthood and commanded that a tabernacle be built which would facilitate their worship.
• While Moses was in the presence of God on Mount Sinai, God revealed the pattern of the tabernacle to him. God carefully instructed Moses to make the tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly according to the pattern shown him on the mountain (see Exodus 25:8; 26:30). Nothing else would be acceptable to God. The furnishings of the tabernacle include the ark, the table of presence, the lampstand, the priestly garments for the high priest, the ephod, the breastpiece and other priestly garments, the altar of incense, basin for washing and incense (see Exodus 25-30).
• God did not only give specific and detailed instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, He also empowered specific individuals to carry out the work of constructing the tabernacle. In other words, it was not enough to be given the pattern of the tabernacle, divine power or enablement had to be given in order to build it according to the specification given by God Himself. Clearly, the source of this power is the Person of the Holy Spirit.
Please mark this well! God at no point left His work to man to do in his own strength and power. No matter how small or big God's work is, He always provides the power of His Spirit for its successful accomplishment.
• And so, before the construction of the tabernacle got underway, God spoke to Moses about empowering certain individuals for this service. This is recorded in Exodus 31:1-6.
"Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you."
• God repeated this message in Exodus 35:30-35 to stress the principle: The power of the Holy Spirit is essential for doing God's work God's way. In other words, without the power of the Spirit of God, no work of God is done that pleases the Person of God.
Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, "See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. "And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. "He also has put in his heart to teach, both he and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. "He has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs."
• Clearly then, when it comes to doing God's work God's way, God's Spirit is the key. That is, the power of ministry is the Person of the Holy Spirit. No one or nothing else will do.
• That the power of ministry is the Person of the Holy Spirit is convincingly illustrated in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. His public ministry began with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Him at His baptism in the Jordan River. This was so important to God that His Spirit led three of the four Gospel writers to record it for us. Matthew, Mark and Luke, each wrote about this event in their inspired accounts.
"After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased'" (Matthew 3:16-17).
"In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;and a voice came out of the heavens; 'You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased'" (Mark 1:9-11).
"Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased'" (Luke 3:21-22).
• The Third Person of the Trinity is referred to variously in these passages as "the Spirit of God," "the Spirit," and "the Holy Spirit." These names reveal that He is indeed equal with God and like God, is a Spirit-being and perfectly holy.
• Commenting on the above verses, Bible Commentator William MacDonald writes:
"There was never a time in the life of our Lord when He was not filled with the Holy Spirit. But now the Holy Spirit came upon Him, anointing Him for service and enduing Him with power. It was a special ministry of the Spirit, preparatory for the three years of service that lay ahead. The power of the Holy Spirit is indispensable. A person may be educated, talented, and fluent, yet without that mysterious quality which we call "unction," his service is lifeless and ineffective. The question is basic, "Have I had an experience of the Holy Spirit, empowering me for the service of the Lord?"
• The importance of the Holy Spirit's power in the life of the Lord Jesus is not only seen in the Spirit's descent on Him at His baptism, but also in the narrative of His birth (Luke 1:34-35) and in the Spirit's constant undergirding of His ministry, a fact our Lord Himself declared in His hometown synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:18-19).
"Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I am a virgin?' The angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:34-35).
"And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:16-21).
• Christ Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, He consistently carried out His ministry and mission through the power of the Spirit of the LORD. The anointing of the Holy Spirit was upon Him to preach the Good News, to proclaim release to many who were held in bondage to Satan, sin and self. If the Lord Jesus Himself, in whom God the Father is well-pleased, did the work of God in the power of the Spirit of God, what about us? Is God expecting us to do His work in our strength and power? Certainly not! He expects us to rely on the Person of the Holy Spirit to His work. That is the only way His work is to be done in order for Him to receive all the glory and praise. He has not called us to do ministry with fifty percent reliance on the Holy Spirit and fifty percent reliance on our human strength. He will not even accept a ninety-nine percent dependence on the Spirit and one percent dependence on our human effort. He will only accept one hundred percent reliance on the Holy Spirit. This is what brings glory and honor to His name. This was the way the Lord Jesus ministered here on earth while in human flesh. He could therefore pray at the end of His ministry with such great confidence, "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:4-5).
• One can describe the Gospel of Luke as the "Gospel of Spirit and power." It is only Gospel that described the Lord Jesus as being "full of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 4:1). It alone portrayed Christ Jesus as operating in the power of the Spirit. "And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district" (Luke 4:14).
• The Scripture also shows that even after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, He ministered by the Holy Spirit. Dr. Luke, the inspired writer of the book of Acts states this in the opening verses of the book. "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen" (Acts 1:1-2). We learn from this passage and the previous ones that before and after His resurrection, our Lord, did His ministry through the power of the Holy Spirit.
• Jesus Christ, the Son of God did His ministry in the power of the Spirit of God from start to finish. This is to teach us an important lesson: The power of ministry is the Person of the Holy Spirit. Oh how important this principle is! Even the devil knows how true it is and cringes when he observes a man or woman of God operating in the power of the Holy Spirit. Why? Satan is no match for the Spirit. But unfortunately, it seems we have not grasped this truth. The devil deceives us into thinking that we can do just as well by relying on our human strength and techniques.
• Please mark this well! Power for ministry is not found in technique or technology. Power for ministry is not generated by our talents, or treasures, no matter how abundant and plentiful they are. Power for ministry is not even dependent on our theological training. Power for ministry is not found in our skills or in how smart and sharp we are. Neither is it dependent on our human strength and might. Nor is it based on our experience, education, expertise, or eloquence (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
Power for ministry or service in the kingdom of God is generated by the Person of the Holy Spirit. It is released through the Holy Spirit of God. It is supplied by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power.
• That is why the Lord Jesus twice, carefully commanded His small band of believers after His resurrection to wait to be endued with spiritual power from above. Both of these commands were preserved for us in the inspired writings of Dr. Luke, namely, the Gospel of Luke and Acts.
"And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
"Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father has promised, 'Which,' He said, 'you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now... But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth" (Acts 1:4-5, 8).
• The Lord Jesus knew very well that His disciples cannot do without the power of the Holy Spirit. Oh yes, they had been with Him for three years! They had been trained by Him for three years. They had been instructed by the Glorious Lord Himself. They had observed His life and ministry. They had even been sent by Him on short-term missions work. In short, they had the best experience, education and training under the Lord Jesus Himself. But as great as their education and experience were, they were not enough to make them effective in the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They desperately needed the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective witnesses of Jesus Christ. Therefore the commands "stay in the city" and "not to leave Jerusalem" until they were endued with spiritual power. They would receive this power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
• The fearful followers of Jesus Christ needed power for their witness. They needed holy boldness for preaching the Good News in the very place where Jesus Himself was fiercely opposed, bitterly hated and mercilessly crucified. They needed spiritual power to carry the message of the Good News to Judea, with its strong Jewish population who were entrenched in deep-rooted legalism. They needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to Samaria, with its hated and half-breed population with whom the Jews had no dealings. They needed the power of the Spirit to proclaim God's message of love and new life to the Gentile peoples of the end of the earth, whom they largely regarded as unholy and unclean.
Indeed, the power of the Holy Spirit is the grand indispensable of all Christian worship, walk, witness and work. You may be highly talented, intensively trained in the best theological school, and widely experienced, but without spiritual power, that is, the power of the Person of the Holy Spirit, you will be ineffective in ministry. Period!
• Oh yes, you are a minister indeed! But you are a minister without spiritual power. On the contrary, you may be uneducated, unschooled, untrained, unskilled, unattractive, unrefined and even underage, yet being endued with the power of the Holy Spirit will make your ministry effective for the kingdom of God.
• The point made above can be illustrated in the specific area of preaching. A preacher may violate every principle of good public speaking, and yet if the Holy Spirit is speaking through him, God grabs people's attention and says to them, "You need to listen to this message. It is for you." People are challenged, convicted and God personally speaks to them. The difference between such a preacher and one who is merely a good communicator, is a sense of divine authority given by the Holy Spirit. Great preachers are good communicators, but good communicators are not necessarily great preachers. The difference is divine power given by the Holy Spirit. Preaching is not merely a practice of good communication skills, but it is a message from God empowered by the Holy Spirit for the people at a moment in time.
• Indeed, the Spirit of God is the sole and sure source of the church's power and progress. No one or nothing else will do. We need to be reminded once again by the clear message of God through His prophet Zechariah to the Jews who returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon to rebuild the temple. God's word to them was that the colossal task of the rebuilding of the temple was not dependent on human energy or power, but by His Spirit.
"This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, 'Not by might nor by power, but My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of 'Grace, grace to it'"(Zechariah 4:6-7).
• Just as the rebuilding of the temple was not to be accomplished by human energy, but by the Holy Spirit of God, so also God expects His servants today to carry out their ministries through total dependence on the Spirit of God. Our service is to be done with the strength God provides through the Person of the Holy Spirit. When we serve with the strength God supplies, He receives the glory. The Scripture plainly says, "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterance of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:11).
• Today, many rely on technique and technology for a "powerful ministry." Great investment is made in procuring the current state-of-the art technological equipments to do a "powerful ministry." The more current the technology we use, the more impact we believe the ministry will make. With our heads we say to ourselves, "these are simply tools," but in our hearts, we believe that these tools are what will make the difference in our ministries. This is a subtle deception. I believe one of the root causes of depending on our human energy, technique and skills to carry out ministry in our day is due to our insatiable desire to make a name for ourselves. Although, we may not admit it, our hearts long for recognition and praise among men. We want to bask in the glory of a "successful ministry," where success is defined by the popular saying, "the bigger the better." Thus, a pressing urge to rely on our skills, techniques and our own strength to get a quick result in our ministries.
• In his article "Coming to Terms With Techniques," Don McCullough, pastor of Solana Beach Presbyterian Church in California, said, "The use of good techniques, however, differs from reliance upon Technique. Herein is the problem. Technique seems to have a life of its own, drawing us more and more under its influence. Unwilling to remain a servant, it becomes a tyrant. Invite Technique into the sanctuary and before long it takes its place on the altar. If we rely on Technique to supply power for our ministry, we will naturally follow where it leads."
• Let us be reminded again that technique, no matter how cutting edge it is, cannot be relied upon to supply power for our ministry.
B. Purity of heart is essential to experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in ministry (Judges 13-16; 1 Samuel 10-16; 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51; Psalm 32:1-5)
• The Holy Spirit is referred to as the "Spirit of holiness" (Romans 1:4). Holiness is the defining characteristic of the Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness, his power is only experienced by those whose hearts are pure.
• Purity of heart doesn't mean one is perfect or sinless. Purity of heart means keeping a short account of sin in our lives. Whenever the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we must agree with Him and confess that particular sin to God and ask for cleansing and pardon. In doing so, we become clean conduits or channels for the Spirit's power to flow unobstructed.
The power of the Holy Spirit is only released into the lives of pure or clean vessels. Without purity of heart, the power of the Holy Spirit will not flow unhindered through God's servants.
• This truth is clearly and convincingly illustrated in the lives of three Old Testament characters, namely, Samson, Saul and David. These men, once or on many occasions, experienced the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. However, sin obstructed the free flow of the Spirit's power in their lives. God preserved the stories of their lives in the Bible in order to teach us many useful life-lessons, one of them being that purity of heart is essential to experiencing the Spirit's power in ministry.
• Let's first look at the life of Samson. Samson's life story occurred in the time of the Judges. His father, Manoah was from the tribe of Dan. Manoah's wife was barren and had borne no children. But one day the angel of the LORD, the pre-incarnate Christ, appeared to her and gave her a promise of conceiving and giving birth to a son. This son was to be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death. God's purpose for this son was that he would begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines who were being used to oppress Israel as part of God's discipline of His wayward people.
• After a second appearance of the angel of the LORD to both Manoah and his wife, prophecy was fulfilled. Manoah and his wife were blessed with a son of promise, whom they named Samson, meaning "little sun," or "sun-one," in anticipation of his heroic, sun-like strength and miraculous energy. Samson grew up and the Lord blessed him (see Judges 13). His greatest blessing was experiencing the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible repeatedly stated that, "the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily" (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14). In each of these instances, Samson was endued with the supernatural strength of the Holy Spirit to accomplish great acts, such as killing a young lion, overpowering and killing thirty men and taking their spoil, and slaughtering thousand Philistines with a only fresh jawbone of a donkey (see Judges 14:5-6, 12-19; 15:14-16).
• After experiencing these great victories, Samson's life went downhill. The Bible reports that "Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went into her"(Judges 16:1). It is clear that at this point in Samson's life, he was not walking in the Spirit. He was walking in the flesh. However, in His mercy, God gave him a way of escape from the Gazites who were seeking to kill him (see Judges 16:2-3). After his sexual sin in Gaza, the Bible shows us that Samson's final demise was caused by his love for women. Samson, we are told, "loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah" (Judges 16:4). Samson apparently lived with Delilah who later enticed him to reveal the secret of his great strength for five thousand and five hundred pieces of silver. After the seven locks of his hair were cut by Delilah, the Bible records these sad words spoken by Samson: "I will go out as other times and shake myself free. But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him"(Judges 16:20b). Unconfessed sin in Samson's life had led to this. He was no longer walking in purity of heart. Therefore he could not experience the Spirit's power. And so, Samson was seized by the Philistines, his eyes gouged out, brought to Gaza, and bound with bronze chains, and he became a grinder in the prison (see Judges 16:21). Eventually, Samson died with thousands of Philistines after he prayed to God to strengthen him once more to get revenge on the Philistines for his two eyes. The Philistines had assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god, and to celebrate Dagon's "victorious work" of giving their enemy Samson into their hands (see Judges 16:23-30). Samson was to deliver Israel from the oppressive rule of the Philistines. But here he died with some of them which did not fully accomplish the deliverance for which God had planned to carry out through him. Samson failed to fulfill God's purpose for his life. How tragic! His life would have ended triumphantly had learned and lived by the principle: Purity of heart is essential to experiencing the Spirit's power for a successful service.
• The second Old Testament character in this principle is vividly illustrated is king Saul. Although God was Israel's King, they rejected Him and demanded a human king. Samuel the prophet had judged Israel for many years. Now he was old and his two sons were dishonest and were therefore not qualified to lead the nation of Israel. However, the main motivation for demanding a king was that Israel wanted to be like all the nations around them who had kings ruling over them. Samuel grieved over this decision but he was told by the Lord to listen to the voice of the people and appoint a king for them. Saul was later appointed and anointed as ruler over God's inheritance, Israel. After his anointing, Samuel related to Saul many truths including the words that the Spirit of the LORD would come upon Saul mightily (see 1 Samuel 10:6). The Bible records the fulfillment of this prophetic word in several instances in Saul's life. Twice it said; "the Spirit of God came upon him (Saul) mightily" (1 Samuel 10:10; 11:6). In the first instance, Saul prophesied among a group of prophets, surprising many who knew him previously. In the second instance, Saul led Israel to war, totally defeating the Ammonites and freeing the men of Jabesh-gilead (see 1 Samuel 11:1-15).
• After this great victory, the prophet Samuel addressed all Israel rehearsing the history of Israel, after humbly asking the people if they found any fault in his leadership. Samuel had not cheated nor accepted a bribe to pervert justice. Neither did he oppress the people. What an incredible testimony of a faithful and humble leader! Samuel committed himself to praying for the people and pointed them to the Lord their God (see 1 Samuel 12).
• With Saul as the king of Israel, Israel went into battle against the Philistines. Saul received a specific command from Samuel to wait for him for seven days until he came to Gilgal to offer up burnt offerings to the Lord. Saul waited but not completely. Realizing that his troops were scattering while the Philistine forces were increasing in number, Saul took matters into his own hands and offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering Samuel arrived (see 1 Samuel 13:1-10). Saul was quick to explain himself and excuse himself from wrong doing.
"But Samuel said, "What have you done?" And Saul said, "Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the LORD.' So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering." Samuel said to Saul, "You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. "But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you" (1 Samuel 13:11-14).
• Saul had disobeyed the direct command of the Lord. Despite this disobedience God brought victory to Israel through Jonathan (see 1 Samuel 14). Being a God of grace, God gave Saul a second chance. Through the prophet Samuel, Saul was directed by God to attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. God's command to Saul was very clear and concise. He was to put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. He was not to spare them. This was God's way of taking vengeance on the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt (see 1 Samuel 15:1-3).
• Saul followed God's instruction and went to war against the Amalekites. So far so good. Everything looked as if Saul was going to completely obey God. Unfortunately, that was not the case as is evidenced in these solemn and sad words:
"But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed. Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands " And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the LORD all night. Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul; and it was told Samuel, saying, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal." Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed are you of the LORD! I have carried out the command of the LORD." But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed." Then Samuel said to Saul, "Wait, and let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night." And he said to him, "Speak!" Samuel said, "Is it not true, though you were little in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the LORD anointed you king over Israel, and the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, 'Go and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are exterminated.' "Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD, but rushed upon the spoil and did what was evil in the sight of the LORD?" Then Saul said to Samuel, "I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. "But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God at Gilgal." Samuel said, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. "For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king" (1 Samuel 15:9-23).
• For a second time in a row, Saul disobeyed the direct command of God to him. This would prove to be very costly for Saul. God rejected him as king over Israel. The kingdom was torn from him and given to David, whom Samuel anointed to be God's next king to rule His people Israel (see 1 Samue16:1-12). After David's anointing, the Bible says: "And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward" (1 Samuel 16:13).
• While the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David, the Bible records the saddest event in the life of king Saul. His repeated disobedience had not only cost him the kingdom, but it also cost him the abiding presence and power of the Person of the Holy Spirit for service. "Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him" (1 Samuel 16:14). The rest of Saul's life would be characterized by constant torment of an evil spirit. Relief came to him from time to time when David would take his harp and play for the tormented and rejected king (see 1 Samuel 16:15-23). Saul's life went downhill from this point even though he held on to the kingdom. Spiritually, he was not effective. He was filled with jealousy and several times attempted to kill David. With God's help, David constantly escaped from Saul and his men. Finally and sadly, Saul took his own life when the Philistines pressed hard after him and his sons (see 1 Samuel 31:1-13). Israel was not only defeated by the Philistines, they lost their king in battle in a disgraceful and tragic manner.
• Why did Saul's life end so tragically? Saul had not lived with a pure heart before God. He repeatedly disobeyed God and never really kept a short account of sin. He only justified himself again and again. God's Holy Spirit - the power for ministry, was no longer evident in Saul's life. Instead of being controlled by the Holy Spirit for service in God's kingdom, Saul was controlled by an evil spirit. If Saul had genuinely and earnestly sought God in true repentance, God would have blessed him with the presence and power of the Person of the Holy Spirit to serve Him and finish well. But unfortunately, he didn't. And so, his life and service ended in disgrace and dishonor.
• King David is the third Old Testament character whose life also perfectly illustrates the principle that purity of heart is essential to experiencing the power of the Spirit in service. As stated already, after David was anointed, the Spirit of God came upon him in power (see 1 Samuel 16:13). In the power of the Spirit, David accomplished God-sized works such as killing a bear, a lion, the well-armed giant, Goliath, with a stone, and escaped repeatedly from the sword of Saul. However, the power of the Spirit was not experienced by David when he sinned and let the sin of adultery and murder remained in his heart unconfessed (see 2 Samuel 11). Not only was David not experiencing the power of the Spirit, but he lacked the joy of the Lord as sin ruled and reigned in his heart.
• Fortunately for David, God sent the prophet Nathan to confront him (see 2 Samuel 12:1-14). Nathan's gentle and wise confrontation of David, led to David's confession and true repentance and God's response to his repentance. Listen to his heartfelt genuine repentance in the presence of God and Nathan: Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD " And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die" (2 Samuel 12:13-14). Unlike Saul, who simply justified himself when confronted with his sin, David humbly and honestly repented of his sins and received the full forgiveness God promises all who genuinely turn away from their sins.
• David's full confession and repentance of this particular sin is recorded for us in Psalm 51. There we read the inspired words of a genuine heartfelt repentant sinner.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar.
• Please notice that David was very sincere in his confession and repentance. David also asked God to purify him and purify his heart. He also admitted before God that God is not pleased with sacrifices and burnt offerings if one's heart is not truly broken and contrite before God. Furthermore David pleaded with God not to cast him from His presence or take His Holy Spirit from him.
• Now, here is something I want you to consider very carefully. Remember that David had witnessed the departure of the Spirit of the Lord from Saul when he disobeyed the Lord and never genuinely repented. I believe with all my heart that when David prayed these words, he was reminded of what happened to Saul. David therefore earnestly prayed for purity of heart so that what happened to Saul would not happen to him. He knew that the only way the Spirit's power and presence could be restored in his life was to have a clean and pure heart. So David sought cleansing of his heart, teaching us a lesson: Purity of heart is essential to experiencing the Spirit's power for service.
• As New Testament believers who have the Holy Spirit living in us and abiding with us, we do not need to pray: "God, do not take Your Holy Spirit from me." He is always in us and with us. But we can grieve Him (seeEphesians 4:30) or quench Him or put out His fire (see 1 Thess 5:19). Furthermore, if we are living in sin, not only do we grieve or quench the Spirit, His power will not be released through us for service. The Holy Spirit does not promote sin. He does not honor the work of the flesh. He releases His power through God's servants who keep a short account of sin, confessing their sins and seeking cleansing and pardon from God. The Spirit is holy and will only unleash His power through clean vessels for service. David's life testifies to this.
• Psalm 32, also a Psalm of David, teaches that when we allow sin to remain unconfessed in our lives, we are drained of spiritual vitality. David had been there and admitted that. Listen to his inspired words:
"How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah" (Psalm 32:1-5).
• Keeping a short account of sin is for our own good. It prevents us from being drained of spiritual vitality and enables us to experience the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit for service in God's kingdom. We become clean vessels through which the Holy Spirit joyfully releases His power to do God's work.
• Clean vessels are good conduits for the Spirit's life-changing power for service. This is further illustrated by the writing of the Scottish Presbyterian Preacher, Horatius Bonar (1808-1889).
"From them that walk with Him in holy, happy intercourse, a virtue seems to go forth, a blessed fragrance seems to compass them whithersoever they go. Nearness to Him, intimacy with Him, assimilation to His character - these are the elements of a ministry of power... Our power in drawing men to Christ springs chiefly from the fullness of our personal communion with Him. The countenance that reflects most of Christ, and shines most with His love and grace, is most fitted to attract the gaze of a careless, giddy world, and win restless souls from the fascinations of creature love and beauty. A ministry of power must be the fruit of a holy, peaceful, loving intimacy with the Lord."
• The Scottish minister Robert McCheyne (1813-1843) died before he was thirty years old. His short ministry was plagued by severe illness. But it had a powerful impact on Scotland. He once made a statement that perhaps gives the key to his effectiveness: "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness."
• Bonar's and McCheyne's statements are relevant for us today. They understood that the power of the Holy Spirit cannot be experienced in any other way. It takes personal holiness, purity of heart, and desire for intimacy with God to experience the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. God refuses to lower His standard for releasing the power of His Holy Spirit into His servant's life for service. That standard had been purity of heart, personal holiness. It is today and it will be in the future. This is perfectly consistent with God's unchanging character.
• We live in a church age, in which being happy is emphasized more than being holy. As a result, many are not experiencing the release of the Holy Spirit's inexhaustible power for ministry. The fault is not with God but with us.
Until our priorities are redefined and pursuing holiness becomes our passion, we will not experience the overflowing life-changing power of the Spirit of God in our own lives, let alone in our ministries.
• Oh I wish it were in my power to stir you to lay hold of this principle: Purity of heart is essential to experiencing the supernatural power of the Spirit of God for service! But I must leave it with the Great Stirrer of Hearts, namely, the Person of the Holy Spirit. May He deeply impress this truth into our hearts and stir our hearts to live it daily for Jesus' sake! Amen.
C. Prayer is the gracious means God has ordained for releasing the Spirit's power into His servant's life for service (Mark 9:28-29; Luke 4:1-2, 14; 5:15-17;6:12, 19; Acts 1:14; 2:1-4, 42; 6:4; James 5:16).
• In all things, the Lord Jesus is our supreme example. We see in His life the practical outworking of this principle, that is, prayer is the gracious means God has ordained to release the Spirit's power into His servant's life for service. Again and again, in the life and ministry of our Lord, the Bible shows a correlation between prayer and the power of the Spirit. This correlation is particularly shown in the Gospel of Luke. This is not surprising at all because Luke's Gospel reveals more of our Lord's prayer life than the rest.
"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days... And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district" (Luke 4:1-2, 14).
"But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray. One day He was teaching; and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who has come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing" (Luke 5:15-17).
"It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them... Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases... And all the people were trying to touch Him, for power was coming from Him and healing them all"(Luke 6:12-13, 17,19).
• After our Lord's forty days and forty nights of fasting in the Judean wilderness (Luke 4:1-2; cf. Matthew 4:1-2), we are told, "And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district"(Luke 4:14). Similarly, after His repeated withdrawal into the wilderness to pray, the Bible again states, "and the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing" (Luke 4:17). And again after spending a whole night in prayer, the Bible relates that "power was coming from Him and healing them all" (Luke 6:19).
• The Holy Spirit was very careful in guiding the writers of the Bible to record the biblical stories and events in a special order. That is one reason we cannot read the Bible in a haphazard order. Doing so will result in missing important connections God has preserved for us to see and thus come to a better understanding of what He is intending to communicate to us.
By preserving the order of "prayer-power" in these Scriptures,God is clearly communicating to us that prayer is the gracious means He has chosen to release His Spirit's power into His servant's life for service.
• Oh how important it is for us to understand this basic principle of ministry and put it into practice in our lives! We need a renewed sense of urgency in applying this principle in our individual lives and collectively in our churches, especially in this hour of need in our world. The world is not going to be impacted by our intellectual ministries, our endless activities, our stimulating programs and entertaining-oriented meetings. The world will only be impacted for Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit which is released through fervent, fruitful and focused prayer.
• Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994), one of England's foremost outdoor Evangelists, writes in his book Revival God's Way:
"The Prayer Room in the church is the boiler for its spiritual life. When holy passion has ceased to move the intercessors in the Prayer Room, coldness ensues, power is lost, and mortification sets in. The place still looks viable, but it is no longer a birthplace of souls... Our poverty in prayer is the seedbed of all our failure. Failing there, we fail everywhere. Poverty in prayer produces poverty in the pulpit, and results in a 'famine ... of hearing the word of the Lord' (Amos 8:11) in the church... Poverty-stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of prayer. We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and pay-ers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere."
• Power for ministry is lacking in our lives and churches today not because God's power has grown weaker over the passage of time. He is still the same powerful God who parted the Red Sea. He is still the same God who empowered feeble and fearful disciples with His Spirit to turn the world upside down with the message of the Good News. The same divine power is ready and available for us today to do His work. Prayerlessness results in powerlessness. To overcome this powerlessness in our lives and ministry, we must ask God to renew us in the Holy Spirit, to pray with purpose, with passion, with power, and with pleadings for God to move in our churches, communities, counties, cities, countries and on our continents.
• The Church today wants to be popular. Prayer is not longer emphasized as the foundation of the church's ministry. Concerts have taken the preeminent place of crying out to God for the move of the Holy Spirit. Entertainment-oriented activities have taken over from the gathering together of believers for the purpose of earnestly calling on God to revive His people and His works among them. All kinds of programs have pushed prayer to the back-seat. It is therefore no surprise that the Church has very little impact on the world today. Until prayer is given the prominent place it had in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself and in the lives of His early followers, the Church of today will continue her journey on the path of mediocrity despite her "mega-movement passion." How sad!
• That prayer is the gracious means God has chosen to release the Spirit's power into His minister's life for ministry is not only vividly and practically illustrated in the life of our Lord, but He also personally taught it to His disciples. He instructed them after a season of prayer on a high mountain. The importance of this lesson is seen in the fact that, three of the four Gospel writers recorded various parts of it. Matthew, Mark and Luke, all reported on our Lord's season of prayer (this was clearly stated in Luke 9:28-29), the healing of a demon-possessed boy, whom the disciples were unable to heal, and our Lord's rebuke of His disciples (Matthew 17:1-6,14-18; Mark 9:1-8, 14-27; Luke 9:28-42). But it was Mathew and Mark who wrote inspired accounts of the instruction our Lord privately gave to His disciples.
"Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not drive it out?' And He said to them, 'Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this move, "Move from here to there," and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:19-21).
"When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, 'Why could not drive it out?' And He said to them, 'This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer'" (Mark 9:28-29).
• The disciples thought long and hard about their failure to drive out a demonic spirit that had possessed an only son of a father. They pondered about their Lord's rebuke of them. How long would He have to put up with lives of powerlessness. Our Lord had earlier given them power to cast out demons. Why were they unable to help the boy? Had they become professional and polished in their ministry, yet devoid of spiritual power? Were they thinking they could count on a Spirit-filled ministry without constant spiritual exercise? Why were they all so helpless in the face of human need in spite of the fact that they could draw on His infinite resources of power?
• These questions are also for us. How long would the Lord Jesus put up with powerlessness in our ministry? Have we become so professional and polished in our ministry, yet devoid of the Spirit's life-changing power? Are we thinking we can count on a Spirit-empowered ministry without constant spiritual exercise, especially, the spiritual exercise of fervent, faith-filled and focused prayer? Why are we so helpless in the face of human need in spite of the fact that we have been promised the power of the Holy Spirit? We must allow the Holy Spirit to search and shine His light on our hearts to get at the root of the problem. We need to sit at Jesus' feet to instruct us with His divine wisdom and insight. It is only then we would learn a lifetime lesson that His first disciples learned.
• One thing I appreciate about the disciples is their desire to learn from their failure. No doubt about it! They had one humiliating day. They could not drive out the destructive demon that was literally draining the life out of a little boy. They were helpless in the face of a great need. Furthermore, they were sternly but lovingly rebuked by their Lord. They could have gone into hiding. They could have called it quits. But they did not. They wanted to learn from their mistake and move forward. So, they approached their loving Savior in private for an answer to their pressing question.
• Being a loving and wise Teacher, the Lord Jesus presents prayer as the secret power in ministry. His wise counsel to them and us is, "But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21). "This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer" (Mark 9:29). What this affirms is that the power of the Holy Spirit is released through prayer. Please mark this well! We cannot neglect prayer and expect the power of the Holy Spirit will be released to work through us. The Lord Jesus had Himself come out of a season of prayer. The Spirit's power therefore readily flowed through Him to set free the demon-possessed boy.
• Let's face it! There are times in our Christian service that we are faced with a sense of failure and frustration. We have worked hard and tirelessly, yet there has been no evidence of the Spirit of God working in power and might. We too must hear our Lord's words reminding us, "This kind cannot come out by anything butprayer."
• Someone has said that the wind of the Holy Spirit blows according to His will. Our job is to set the sails of our boats in a direction that can catch the wind. This is what happens when we pray. We become attuned to God and receive what used to be called "unction" or the "plus of the Spirit" in our ministries.
For the Spirit's power to readily flow through our lives for successful and life-transforming ministry, leading to the glory of God, we must constantly be exercised in fervent, faith-filled and focused prayer.
• This is so, because a victorious and effective ministry of the Gospel is based on a life of prayer.
• That prayer is the gracious means God has appointed to release His Spirit's power to His servants for service is also illustrated in the lives of the early disciples. In obedience to their Lord's direct command, the early believers waited in the upper room in Jerusalem devoting themselves to prayer. Their devotion to prayer led to the unleashing of the "Pentecostal power" of the Spirit into their lives for service.
"These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers ... When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise lie a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance" (Acts 1:14, 2:1-4).
• Their devotion to prayer opened the floodgate of the Spirit's supernatural power to these believers in ways that they had never experienced. The first century Christians quickly learned that steadfast and single-minded commitment to prayer plays an important in the release of God's power into His servants life for service. How do I know that? The Bible clearly shows that they continued to devote themselves to prayer (Acts 2:42; 6:4). They did not say, "We waited in prayer for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We have now received His power as result of our waiting in prayer. Therefore, we do not need to devote ourselves any longer to prayer." The Bible never gave us even a hint of such erroneous thinking and attitude. Rather, it convincingly demonstrates that the early believers were constant in devotion to prayer, knowing very well that, through it God graciously unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry.
• Yes, I know that all believers have the Holy Spirit living in us. But if we do not devote ourselves to prayer, earnestly asking Him daily to empower us for service, we will be powerless and ineffective.
The power of the Spirit is unleashed for service in God's chosen people when God's people express their dependence on Him in believing prayer. How important it is for us not only to hear this but also heed it!
• That prayer is the gracious means God has chosen to release the Spirit's power into His servant's life for service is clearly affirmed in one of the most powerful statements the Bible makes about prayer. Writing in the context of a call for prayer in every circumstance and illustrating the effectiveness of sincere prayer, inspired Apostle James states: "The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:16). The NIV translates this verse as "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Philips renders it as "Tremendous power is made available through a good man's earnest prayer." Someone has paraphrased this verse as, "The prayer of a man whose heart is right with God works wonders."
• No doubt, this is one of the most succinct and significant inspired declarations on prayer. It reveals to us that supernatural power of Almighty God is unleashed through believing prayer. Prayer is powerful and effective. God has ordained that through prayer much ministry or service will be accomplished. Have we tested and proven this truth in our lives and ministry? When we saturate our ministry with faith-filled and fervent prayer, God promises, there will be much fruit, far more than all our exertions can produce. Oh that we would take God at His word! Oh that we would trust God in this matter! We would have revival in our ministries and see much fruit, lasting fruit.
• Offering illustrative proof that a righteous man's prayer is powerful and effective, the Bible says, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:17-18).
• The point being made here is simple. Elijah had no superhuman powers. He was by nature a human being and nothing more. However, when Elijah prayed, God's supernatural power was unleashed in stopping rain from falling on the earth for three and half long years (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1, 42-45) and to open the floodgates of heaven for rain to fall. The Bible reveals that the explanation of Elijah's power in prayer is twofold: he was a righteous man, and he prayed earnestly. Elijah had his weaknesses. But because of his trust in God, he was declared righteous. All believers in Jesus Christ are also declared righteous in Christ. Our sins which have been confessed are forgiven. Through the Spirit's help, we can also pray earnestly. Therefore, the Bible is assuring us that such answers to prayer are within the reach of any one of us who believes. We can also experience the unleashing of God's power through prayer for our ministries. What a great privilege we have! Yet, it is very sad to see most of us not taking advantage of it.
The Holy Spirit's power for ministry is released through prayer. This principle of ministry has been tested and proven in the lives of God's servants of old, through whom God did God-sized works. If we want to see God fulfill this principle through us in our day, to do God-sized works, then we must through the help of the Spirit, take it seriously and apply it diligently to our lives and ministries.
• However, if we are content with our "man-sized works" in ministry, then we can ignore it and continue on our own course. After all, our "man-sized works" have been impressive in the eyes of many? Have they not attracted the attention of the world? Have they not made us popular with the world? While people may be impressed by our "human-effort man-sized works" God is not. Moreover, on the day when we stand before the Bema Seat of Christ, for Him to test the quality of our work, we will be ashamed to find that they are wood, hay, and straw and will therefore be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:12,15). Why? God's Spirit had nothing to do with them. It was all our own strength and power. God was not glorified in them. We were glorified. We were the one who received the praise.
• We have learned that spiritual work must be done with spiritual power or divine strength. God's Word has made it very clear that the power of ministry is the Person of the Holy Spirit Himself. In fact, the Bible clearly reveals to us that God has at no point left His work to man to do in his own strength and power. No matter how small or big God's work is, He always provides the power of the Person of the Holy Spirit for its successful accomplishment. This has been illustrated in the building of the tabernacle, the life of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the lives of the early disciples.
• We have also learned that purity of heart is essential for the release of the Spirit's power into our lives for service. This principle was vividly illustrated in the lives of three Old Testament characters, namely, Samson, Saul and David. As long as these men kept a short account of sin and walked in obedience to God, God's supernatural strength and power, was abundantly available for them to do God-sized works. But whenever they allowed sin to remain and rule in their hearts, the Spirit's power was short-circuited. Instead of victory over their enemies, they experienced humiliating defeats. Instead of the joy of the Lord reigning in their hearts, they languished and were laden with guilt.
• Until our priorities are redefined and pursuing holiness becomes our passion, we will not experience the overflowing supernatural power of the Spirit in our lives, let alone in our ministry. This is because holiness is the characteristic defining quality of the Spirit. He releases His power for service through vessels that are clean, that is, God's people who keep a short account of sin in their lives.
• Finally, God's word clearly and convincingly presented to us that the Holy Spirit's power for ministry is always released through believing prayer. This principle has been tested and proven in the lives of God's servants throughout the ages. As if to settle any and all doubts about this principle, it was proven in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If we want God to fulfill this principle in our lives for the accomplishment of God-sized works, then we must through the help of the Holy Spirit be diligent at fervent, faith-filled and focused prayer. We must stop deceiving ourselves that we are praying, when actually what we are really doing is paying lip service to prayer. God will not lower His tested and proven standard for releasing His Spirit's power for service. It is released through earnest, believing, fervent prayer of the heart.
• My prayer is that God Himself will take these truths and deeply impress them on our hearts. And through our diligent application of these truths about ministry, may our service be marked with the presence and power of the Person of the Holy Spirit, that in all our service, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.